On Saturday 15th September the day finally arrived for the highly anticipated V&A Dundee to open its doors for the first 10,000 visitors to see some of Scotland’s top artefacts in design and culture. I felt honoured and privileged to get a sneak peek not only once but twice. My first visit was with some of my fellow Euan’s Guide ambassadors and for my second visit I was kindly invited to visit with Gillian Easson, Executive Director of Creative Dundee. With my second visit it allowed me to capture amazing photos and videos of the incredible interior and visually show my favourite accessibility features. You can watch my YouTube video of my visit here.
For just over 3 years I have driven past Dundee’s waterfront, seeing the process of construction from start to finish. I’m not going to lie, at first I thought it looked like a space ship, but after the enormous 2,466 grey stone panels got added I could see something extraordinary was coming. Designed by Kengo Kuma, famous Japanese architect, his vision was to create a “living room for the city”. This is a perfect metaphor to describe the V&A as it is where a household/community can gather together and share ideas. It’s also a place where everyone should feel included, which is definitely the feeling throughout.
Before you visit the V&A Dundee, you have to get there first, which is made easy due to its central location. Dundee’s newly opened train station is directly across the road from the V&A, with a taxi rank right outside, and Dundee bus station is also only a 10-minute walk away. Due to being central in Dundee there are lots of bus stops nearby travelling all over Dundee and surrounding areas.
There are plenty of parking spaces all around the city centre, however the V&A does not have any designated parking spaces themselves. If you are a blue badge holder you are able to park in any council car park for free, which is great because most of the car parks in Dundee are owned by the council. There are 6 disabled parking spaces right outside the V&A at the opposite side from the visitor’s entrance. Although as I mentioned the V&A does not have any designated parking themselves, so they cannot reserve a space for you and anyone with a blue badge can park in them.
As soon as I entered the V&A I was extremely impressed with how well they’ve thought about accessibility. The doors at the front entrance are automatic and wide which allows easy access for visitors like myself who struggle to open doors independently. The area between both automatic doors is very spacious which is great for the number of visitors that are expected to visit, 500,000 visitors are expected in the first year and 350,000 visitors every year after that.
I was really pleased to see that the visitor centre desk and café counter is at a perfect height to allow wheelchair users like myself to speak to staff independently. The whole area on the ground floor is very spacious and allows visitors to freely move around, the gift shop is also very spacious and from what I saw of it all the items on sale looked at a perfect height for wheelchairs. Although unfortunately the shop was not opened both times I visited.
I feel that this floor is quite hidden if you don’t know that it is there because when you enter through both automatic doors all you see is the ground floor and the main lift that only takes you to the second floor. There is a lift between both automatic doors that is behind a glass door, I feel better signage may need to be placed here to allow visitors to know that the lift is there.
On the first floor there is a picnic room which allows visitors to bring their own pack lunches however during school hours it is mainly used by school pupils. I wouldn’t say it is very spacious for wheelchair users and due to the seats being benches it does look like it would be quite difficult to get into the tables. The seats can be moved along though or tucked under table to make things easier.
There is also a quiet room on this level to allow visitor who may get overwhelmed by crowds to visit and my favourite accessible feature, a Changing Places toilet. This is something that Dundee has needed in the city centre for a long time now as it allows visitor who aren’t able to use standard accessible toilets to avail themselves of the facilities with dignity. It is a large accessible toilet that has all the features a standard accessible toilet has with the bonus of a ceiling tracking hoist and a changing bench. Now don’t get me wrong there are a couple of Changing Places toilets in the center of Dundee, but this one in the V&A is open 10am until the restaurant closes later at night.
This floor is where both the permanent exhibition and guest exhibition is situated. Unfortunately, I have not been able to visit the guest exhibition yet, Ocean Liners, as it wasn’t open both times when I had a sneak peek. I can say though that the guest exhibitions are hosted at the V&A Dundee for 6 months at a time, Ocean Liners will be available for everyone to visit until the 24th February 2019.
I was able to visit the permanent exhibition during both visits and, I must say out of the museum exhibition, it was very accessible. The Scottish Design Galleries is home to artefacts of design and culture from some of the most famous artists in Scottish history. All information describing the artefacts that are on sale is at a perfect height for wheelchair users to read. There are a few artefacts that were displayed behind the information which meant I had to raise my wheelchair up to see them, although not everyone is able to do this. There is an interactive area in the Scottish Design Galleries where visitors are able to touch some of the artefacts and listen to a video. Apart from not being able to reach for the headphone myself due to it being secured down by magnets, it was quite light. However, the artefacts were unreachable in a wheelchair, I was able to just touch one with my fingertips, but that was it. I got told though that artefacts are able to be brought out from storage if you’re not able to reach the ones on display. I would say the only main problem I could see in the exhibition halls is that the doors have to remain closed due to controlling temperatures for the artefacts. They are not automatic, but I’ve been assured someone will be on hand to open them for visitors that might not manage themselves.
The auditorium, learning areas and restaurants is also on the second level of the V&A. I would say the restaurant tables looked quite difficult to get into for wheelchair users, however it was not open when I visited so I will have to review it another day.
Due to attending the V&A Dundee before it officially opened I am not able to comment on all the services that are available, therefore I will be visiting again. Although I will probably wait until it gets a little quieter.
I would definitely recommend you visit the V&A to see the stunning interior and beautiful views of the River Tay from windows throughout. My favourite artefact in the Scottish Design Galleries is the Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Oak Room. It is 100 years old, has been conserved, reconstructed and restored to be placed inside the V&A. It is just amazing to get so close to such a historic interior, especially when it comes to accessibility.